Phoebe Philo's back in town, and there has been much rejoicing. Back in the late 90's, when Stella McCartney was turning Chloé into the It Label for It Girls, Philo was her design assistant, and took over as artistic director when McCartney left in 2001 to start her namesake line. Chloé's success didn't slow down a tick after McCartney left -- as a matter of fact, things went so swimmingly that there were snarky rumors and snippy comments about whether the actual talent behind Chloé had always been Philo's after all. But both of these very nice English girls have only nice things to say about one another and McCartney's own line has been so hugely successful that any questions about her design talents (except for those based on personal taste, or, like some bloggers you know, a reluctance to buy plastic shoes that cost $800) have been pretty well laid to rest.
Philo rocked on at Chloé for five years or so and then she did that very modern yet very retro thing: she quit her job to spend more time with her family. Tears were shed, garments were rent, teeth were ground. Chloé ticked on with various designers, and Philo spent a few years romping about the English countryside with her toddlers.
LVMH hired her to reinvigorate Céline, a 70-year old French luxury brand, in 2008 and since then breath has been held while she cleaned house. The first collection she showed was Resort 2010, trotted out last June. Cue wild, thunderous applause. And all those little beeps & clicks you heard? That was the sound of thousands of iPhones & Blackberries in the hands of pretty much every fashion editor in the world calling the Céline offices and asking for samples to shoot. A new outbreak of Phoebemania has sprung up, and you are going to be seeing a LOT of these clothes in the coming months.
With good reason. They're fantastic.
For Fall 2010, Philo wanted to produce clothing that was "Strong. Powerful. Reduced."
Which she has done. The lines of these clothes, and of all the clothes she's been making, are so pared down and simple and neat.
However, with Céline, you know that "simple" doesn't mean what it does in some other contexts. Céline is a luxury house, it always has been. These are quietly elegant investment clothes that could linger usefully in your closet for 20 years or more, without being so predictable you feel like you're blending into the scenery.
The world is having a sportswear moment these days. It makes perfect sense to me. Times are still tough. It feels wrong to spend my fashion allowance on things that only have one purpose, like a cocktail dress or a pair of uber-trendy, collection-specific shoes. Personally right now I'm obsessed with finding good, multi-use tops; and the last three pairs of shoes I bought? One pair of rain boots and two pairs of penny loafers. Seriously. (Although I haven't gone completely utilitarian, mind you -- all three pairs are patent leather.)
It really is a thrill to see pieces like this on the runway.
Although, lest you forget, this is a French take on sportswear. For great American sportswear, see my old pal Michael Kors.
And good googly-moogly, the coats. The coats!!!
I love leather clothing, I freely admit. (No, not that kind of leather clothing!)
A patent leather skirt? Sign me up.
These clothes please me deeply, and they're going to please a lot of grown-up ladies who are sick unto death of the tattered goth-glam rocker chick thing or the floaty rich hippie thing. I think over the next few seasons we're going to see a lot of classic clothing spun in interesting ways, and this is good news. I feel like I'll be getting a lot of bang for my fashion buck if I shop for things like this. I know myself well enough, though, to know that sticking strictly to this look is going to bore me pretty quickly, so I'm going to stay on the lookout for those small touches to add for pops of individuality & color -- these are the sorts of times when it becomes really important, style-wise, to know what your accessory sweet spot is, and to indulge it if you can. Never stop working on (and working) that collection of colored tights or statement necklaces or whatever your thing is, because those are the items that will personalize your wardrobe.
In the meantime, I'm going to keep a close eye on Phoebe Philo at Céline. It is no small trick to turn out good, reliable yet modern sportswear year after year; I think it's a much greater challenge for a designer than being able to just wipe the slate clean each season with a radical new silhouette or palette, like some of the more fashion-forward designers can. No one bats an eye if Nicolas Ghesquière does armored leggings one season and neoprene dresses the next, but the devotees of labels like Céline & Kors go to them because they know that there is damn well going to be a good pair of trousers there that they can wear for a hundred years. What makes them need a new pair of those trousers every season? Ah, well -- that's where the magic lies.